About a month before being diagnosed with leukemia, 5-year-old Miles caught his first fish while on a family trip to the Midwest.
He borrowed a Barbie fishing pole from his cousins and caught a small perch. “He was hooked and couldn’t wait to go again,” his dad, Seanpaul, says.
Unfortunately, shortly after that trip, Miles began to feel exhausted and experienced unusual pains in his legs and body. “Though we knew something was wrong, at the time we had no idea it was this serious,” says his mom, Jennifer. “The first phone call from his pediatrician–telling us he most likely had leukemia and to immediately go to our local emergency room–was so surreal.”
The next morning, Miles and his dad were airlifted to Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, while Jennifer loaded up the car with his two sisters and pets, to make the six-hour drive in what she calls “a frantic state of shock.” The whole drive, she hoped that there had been a misdiagnosis, but when she finally entered Miles’ room, “I realized it that this was real,” she says. “Miles was so lethargic and pale and small in that hospital bed.” They learned that he was facing three years of treatment.
Seanpaul was due to start a teaching position at a new school in a few weeks, and their eldest daughter was preparing for her sophomore year of high school. When they found out Miles would need to stay close to the hospital for at least a month and a half, they came to the difficult conclusion that the family would have to be separated. Their two daughters and Seanpaul would stay at home, while Jennifer would take indefinite leave from her job to stay in Palo Alto with Miles.
Miles was put on a grueling regimen of twice daily steroids and regular oral and IV chemotherapy, which wore him down. His parents saw his anxiety—which always arose around new situations—rapidly escalate. Although Seanpaul and Miles’ sisters would visit every other weekend, their family felt fractured, and it hurt them all deeply to watch Miles suffer.
“Not only did his body change dramatically—he gained almost 20 percent of his body weight while on the steroids, but his mental health declined rapidly into despair and anger when his father and sisters had to return home,” explains Jennifer. “We worried we would never get our bright, kind, and sweet boy back.”
It was during their stay at the hospital and Ronald McDonald House, when Jennifer and Miles would watch hours of the Discovery Channel and National Geographic, that Miles really became obsessed with fishing. Even after being taken off the daily steroids and being able to reunite with his family, Miles struggled to understand why he had to go keep going through treatment.
“His increasing anxiety at every doctor’s appointment resulted often in him sobbing when he would leave our driveway until hours into the trip,” recalls Jennifer. “Physically, he was handling the chemotherapy well, but emotionally and mentally he was being torn apart. We tried medication and therapy but nothing seemed to help except when he would be home and his dad would take him out fishing.”
It was obvious to the whole family that fishing brought peace to Miles. Before his illness, Miles had enjoyed hiking with his family, but now he was too weak. “We realized that sitting in a chair by the edge of a lagoon or beach while fishing would allow him to be outside, but would not be too strenuous,” Jennifer says.
Initially Seanpaul was no fisherman, but he learned for his son. An added benefit to the activity—although Miles reverted to being a fussy eater, he would “happily eat any fish he caught.” In the winter, when the weather was too cold for Miles to be outside for long periods of time, he’d watch fishing videos on YouTube. He loved to watch people fish in warm locales, catching huge fish from the tropical blue waters.
When Miles learned that he qualified for a wish, he was thrilled with the idea of a fishing trip, somewhere warm. Once he decided on a trip to Hawaii, he began to talk about it all the time.
Miles understood that he’d need to get through the next stage of his treatment before he’d be healthy enough to go on the trip. “Though he had balked at his daily chemotherapy medications before, he started taking them without complaint,” Jennifer says. “At every doctor’s appointment, he had something positive to talk to medical staff about and was delighted at the idea of catching a huge fish.”
Unfortunately, the wish trip had to be rescheduled once due to Miles being ill and inpatient for a week right before. However, Jennifer says he got through that experience and the following months with the idea that his trip was being rescheduled. “The idea of the trip motivated him to do his best to stay healthy, which helped him with his transition back to school,” she says. “He was very anxious about returning to school after a year away, but the idea of doing his best so he could go on his trip kept him centered.”
Seanpaul and Jennifer witnessed the wish bring Miles hope through his despair. “Every time he told someone what his wish was, his eyes would light up and he would overcome his natural shyness to talk,” says Jennifer.
When asked what his favorite part of the trip was, Miles answered: “Everything.”
The fishing experience was a thrill, and Miles loved spending a day on a big boat, catching reef fish. He attended his first luau, where he was fascinated to learn about traditional Hawaiian music and dances. “We were not sure how he would react to crowds,” says Jennifer, “but he was so immersed and entranced with the experience he barely noticed the other people.”
Miles loved peering into the ponds to watch the local fish swim; holding baby seahorses; beachcombing for coral, rocks, and seashells; and visiting the lagoon to see sea turtles and dolphins. He loved the balmy, soothing weather; the hotel rooms; breakfast; the pools; and the beachfront.
“Being able to go on an all-expense paid trip to a gorgeous island and see our little guy–who has been through so much in the last nineteen months–smile, was priceless,” says Jennifer. “We were able to leave our worries at home, swim together, laugh together, eat together, have amazing experiences, and generally relax together.”
Jennifer and Seanpaul say that in Hawaii, their family completely embraced the Aloha spirit. They were overjoyed to watch their children play together in the water. “My husband and I held hands on the beach and started to see how life could be normal again when treatment was over,” says Jennifer. “It almost feels like we were holding our breaths, and this trip allowed us to breathe again.”
While Miles still faces 17 months of further treatment, his parents say that he is in a much better place today. “Not only does he have a sweet golden tan that doesn’t seem to be fading, but he is just mellower in general about the upcoming doctor’s appointment,” says Jennifer. The family is adjusting to day-to-day life–Jennifer is back at work full time, while Seanpaul is working as a substitute teacher so he can take Miles to appointments and stay home with him as needed.
Jennifer and Saulpaul refer to Make-A-Wish as “a beacon of hope, happiness, and inspiration to families that have gone through, and may still be going through, trauma and despair.”
“Not only did it rejuvenate our family, but we have met wonderful local volunteers and been contacted by the most caring individuals,” says Jennifer. “It has given our family a new sense of community and faith in others. We send our love and gratitude to everyone involved with Make-A-Wish.”
Help more kids like Miles find the strength inside! More than 1,000 wishes nationwide are currently delayed due to the public and medical concerns surrounding COVID-19. Now more than ever, the world needs the hope of a wish. Donate today.